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Local churches empathetic to GLBT individuals

DCN Correspondent

On the corner of Sixth Avenue East and Third Street sits a large, red-brick church with flashing stained glass windows that catch the sun at the center of their arcs. In the entrance to the building a small, rainbow windsock hangs. This is the Gloria Dei church and they are an openly a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT)-inclusive congregation.

“It's been maybe officially ten years that Gloria Dei has been what we call a ‘reconciling in Christ congregation’ along with a collection of ELCA Lutheran Churches that offer a particular welcome to gay and lesbian and transgendered people to be full participants in the church,? Pastor David Carlson said.

Prevalent in the media that many church communities can’t settle religious values with GLBT communities, Gloria Dei has provided empathy in the heart of the Hillside for GLBT people.

Carlson said that GLBT members at Gloria Dei are welcomed to take active roles in the church like Sunday school teachers, members of the choir and the church council.

“It’s not like we’re keeping track of who’s where but we’re just saying that everyone can serve, everyone is welcome, everyone is a part of this church,? Carlson said. “But on the same side, I think it’s important that Gloria Dei have an explicit welcome.?

Often many GLBT individuals are rejected from their churches when found that they are gay.

“Most have had a bad experience with churches before. They were baptized and then told no. We are ‘officially reconciling,'? member of Gloria Dei, Carol Kelley said.

Families all over the country have experienced this type of rejection in churches, especially with children.

“Churches should be the place that welcomes the outcast,? Randi Reitans said, from an interview with Lavender Magazine, Minnesota’s leading GLBT magazine. Reitans is the mother of a normal, American and very Christian Minnesota family that had to reconcile their religions with their right-mindedness of having a gay child.

“Instead, churches are making people into outcasts,? Reitans went on to say.

When Susan Anderson, a resident of Duluth, found herself looking for a church she found it at Gloria Dei.

“I decided I would be an out and open lesbian and they were okay with that. They were more than okay. They were very supportive,? Anderson said.

Anderson was only a member of the church for a short time before she was asked to be on the church council. Then, three years ago, she became the president.

“Gloria Dei really practices what it preaches. Sometimes you go to churches and they say that they welcome the GLBT community but you never see them in positions in the church,? Anderson said.

When Anderson joined the church almost 12 years ago, only two other members were gay or lesbian besides her. Today, four gay couples and other people who identify themselves as GLBT have joined the church.

Several other churches in the Duluth community have made the commitment to be open, affirming and welcoming congregations. Such churches include the Peace United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth.

Web sites for these churches all openly advertise that diversity is celebrated through social justice and action through peace and liberty. They feature photos of hugging women and confirmation ceremonies or unions.

But it hasn’t been an easy road to get to the level of openness and compassion that these churches provide.

“During the time that I was a member and it became an issue whether the UCC Churches should become an open and affirming congregation, we did decide to do that and it wasn’t a unanimous decision,? Bruce Mork, a former member of the Peace Church for fifteen years.

Today Mork attends a church closer to his home in Lakeside. He does, however, remember the effects of the decision to become an openly GLBT church. People stopped coming to the church. Members quit.

“So it wasn’t just all peace and harmony, but after the change was made I would say the church has continued to thrive and we’ve had gay and lesbian families as well as gay and lesbian individuals,? Mork said.